The Hanseatic League in Stockholm


After the war between Albrecht of Mecklenburg and Margareta (read more here), Albrecht and his son was imprisoned at castle Lindholmen in the region of Skåne in southern Sweden. In July 1394, after lengthy negotiations, it was agreed that the two Mecklenburgers should be set free for a ransom of an immense sum of money, equivalent to about 8 000 kilos (more than 17 600 lbs) of pure silver. In short, they were to be released for three years, in which they had to come up with the money, and the city Stockholm was to act as a kind of deposit. Stockholm was the only city in Sweden still controlled by the Germans and hence a thorn in Margareta’s side. During those three years, Stockholm was to be superintended by a group of Hanseatic cities (Königsberg, Elbing, Thorn, Danzig, Reval, Greifswald, Lübeck and Stralsund), as the cities had agreed to act as guarantors for Albrecht. For their troubles, Margareta should pay them an annual sum of 2 000 mark for the three years they administered Stockholm. Also, the cities Rostock and Wismar (the heartland of the Mecklenburg dynasty) should help out with considerable sums of money – 1 000 mark per year.

The mission


The 20th of May 1395 the cities met in the neighboring fishing towns Skanör and Falsterbo, at the southwesternmost tip of Sweden and they agreed about their respective contributions to the mission, in wider terms. Here, they also came to terms with Margareta that the king and his son Erich were to be set free the 29th of September. It was agreed that Greifswald, Stralsund and Lübeck should send half of the personnel, equipment and provisions needed. The Prussian cities (the five remaining of the eight) should send the other half.

As an aside, 1395 is a year where the so called Vitalian brotherhood (a group of pirates) starts to take up more and more of the Hanseatic League’s agenda; in September it is decided that a peace keeping/pirate hunting fleet consisting of 11 ships and 1 000 men at arms is to be set up until 1396 to address the piracy problem. 1396 the pirates are mentioned in almost every meeting held by the Hanseatic League, which gives an impression of the situation in the Baltic region.

The Skanör-Falsterbo agreement above states that the eight cities in total should send the following personnel and equipment to take control of Stockholm:

  • 80 good men at arms in full armour (in this case this included torso protection other than chainmail)
  • 60 good crossbowmen with their weapons and including equipment
  • 12 barrels of crossbow bolts
  • 8 stone guns (bigger cannons)
  • 2 lead guns (smaller cannons/hand guns)
  • “A lot of gunpowder, which is needed for that” [the guns]
  • 60 good crossbows including levers and windlasses
  • Two good gunnery masters
  • Two crossbow makers

In addition, the cities sent large amounts of food; in short, everything that was needed to survive was to be shipped to Stockholm, including different food stuffs and tools.

About two months later, in the middle of July, the cities met in the Teutonic order castle of Marienburg/Malpork, where more exact guidelines for the mission are drawn. The troops shipped to Stockholm from the Prussian cities (Königsberg, Elbing, Thorn, Danzig, Reval) are:

  • 38 men at arms
  • 22 crossbowmen

They bring

  • 8 guns of different types, including powder, lead for making shot and peripheral equipment
  • 1 gunnery master
  • 1 crossbowmaker
  • 30 crossbows
  • 4 barrels of crossbow bolts
  • Peripheral equipment for the crossbows

The soldiers

Personal equipment

In the Marienburg meeting it was stipulated that each soldier should be equipped according to the following lists:

Each crossbowman should have:

  • 60 good bolts with tips
  • 3 crossbows (!) – one big, one middle sized and one small
  • A chainmail
  • A “chest” – probably a coat of plates
  • A mail coif
  • A iron hat
  • Plate gauntlets
  • A shield

Each man at arms should have:

  • A “whole plate armour and what belongs to it”:
  • A hood (most likely a helmet)
  • A coat-of-plates
  • Arm protection made of leather
  • A “vorstal” – probably lower arm protection made of steel
  • Leg protection
  • A shield

Curiously, nothing is mentioned of which weapons a man at arms should bring. Perhaps it didn’t matter, as long as they were armed. I have found no similar lists for Stralsund, Greifswald and Lübeck, but most likely those cities sent a similar number of soldiers with similar equipment.


The soldiers going to Stockholm had to swear a sacred oath when signing up for service:

Dys yst der wepenere unde schuczen yet unde buchsenmeystere unde bogenere. Wir sweren und geloben uch, borgermeisteren, ratmannen unde der ganczen gemeyne der stede Thorn, Elbing, Danczik unde Revele, daz wir hern Hermanne van der Halle, euwirme houbtmanne, und unsern eldesten getruwe und gehorsam will zin in bewarynge, in wache, in were des huses, veste und stat Stokholm, unde in alle anderen dingen, des uns van in bevolen wirt; unde van dannen nicht to scheydende, ee ir uns orlob gebit unde andere in unse stat sendit. Das en wille wir nicht lassen durch lib noch durch leyt, daz uns Got zo helfe unde dy heylighen.

This is roughly translated into:

This is the oath of the men at arms, the crossbowmen, the gunnery masters and the [cross?]bowmakers. We swear and promise you – the mayors, the council and all the common people of the cities Thorn, Elbing, Danzig and Reval, that we will be true and obey herr Hermann van der Halle, our noblest commander, when it comes to guarding and caring for the houses, castle and city of Stockholm, and in all other things he will command us; and therefore not to let anyone in [to Stockholm] without permission, in good times or in bad, so help us God and the Saints.

Pay, benefits and conditions

The tour of duty for the soldiers going to Stockholm was to be 18 months long, as suggested by a meeting the 19th of August, 1395.

The soldiers from the Prussian cities were paid both in fabric and in money. The men at arms was to be paid in 6 ells (1 ell = nearly 60 centimeters) of black and brown fabric (probably 2 ells wide) from Dendermonde (in Flanders), from which they should make “wide coats and hoods”, where the black should be on the right side and the brown on the left. The crossbowmen should have hoods in the same colors, plus parcham (a fabric consisting of both linen and cotton) for their jacks/gambesons. The pay also consisted of 5 marks in coin per year for the crossbowmen and 10 marks per year for the men at arms. It is not clear whether similar conditions applied to the contingents from Stralsund, Lübeck and Greifswald, even though it is probable.

In excess of this, the soldiers would probably have had free food, drink and lodgings. But like always, it seems the pay for the contingent was too little and too late. In comparison to other missions (i.e. on peace keeping ships) the pay wasn’t exactly good. In April 1396 a League meeting in Marienburg states that men at arms that goes on the peace ships without their own armour shall have 1/3 of one Mark each week. If we presume that the peace keeping mission lasted for a year (which it probably didn’t), the participating men at arms would earn more than 50% more per year than their colleagues in Stockholm. On the other hand, the peace keepers didn’t receive any fabric, but this doesn’t cover the difference.

That might be why the superior commander of the Stockholm mission, Hermann van der Halle, made complaints about “uncomfortable” individuals in the force; it could have something to do with the talks at a League meeting the 31st of December, 1396, where the gathered representatives decide to postpone the question of “pay for the men at arms that have been posted in Stockholm this year” to an upcoming meeting.


It seems the garrison commander had trouble making ends meet. Van der Halle sent frequent letters to his superiors asking for the most basic commodities to be shipped from Germany, which indicates the contingent couldn’t easily get hold of locally produced food; for some reason the force couldn’t even use the mills in Stockholm and had to grind their grain to flour via a hand mill.

This, among other things, were ordered from Germany to be delivered to the garrison: Apples, honey, onions, beer, pork, many different kinds of fish, bread, turnips, vinegar, salt, mustard, different kinds of oil (which could also have been used as fuel for lanterns), flour, malt, hops, peas, horseradish, apples and garlic.

Among the finer foods (probably reserved for the commanders) can be found: rice, almonds, raisin, wine and spice.

The posting


The contingent, commanded by the Danzig council member Hermann van der Halle, who was appointed supreme commander of the mission, reached Stockholm and took control over it the 31st of August, 1395. The day after that, the commander of the Stralsund contingent, Magnus von Alen, arrived in Stockholm with his men. Lübeck also seem to have sent a commander – Jordan Pleskow (who maybe rather wanted to stayed at home in his house on Johannisstraße 20 in Lübeck – we’ll never know). A week later, the 8th of September, the cities promised the Stockholm burghers the same freedoms as they had under the reign of King Albrecht, and the burghers – in turn – promised to be true to the trustees responsible to administer the pawned city.

The keepers of the castle, which consisted of Albrecht supporters, among others Hinrike von Brandis and Otto von Peckatel, had been informed of the turning of the tide beforehand; the Hanseatic League wrote them a letter a month before van der Halle and his troops arrived in Stockholm. Von Brandis and von Peckatel handed the city over to van der Halle without much of a fuss.

We are presented with information that paints a picture of Stockholm castle in disrepair, and probably the soldiers were put to work to repair everything, including the lodgings that had been built by private persons in the castle. The inhabitant of said lodgings – the duke Johann von Mecklenburg (a relation to King Albrecht) asked van der Halle’s permission to remain, something he was denied.

The soldiers had nevertheless to undertake what was most likely extensive renovations; the walls and roof of the castle was in a sorry state, and the cities demanded that the renovations were kept cheap. Also, the old castle commander “borrowed” a lot of kitchen equipment and a stone gun, which needed to be replaced. To assure that the borrowed gun shouldn’t be used against the castle by the leaving force, van der Halle decided to buy it from the leaving Albrecht supporters.

A less than desirable task

Hermann van der Halle didn’t seem too happy with his task. His letters back to his superiors are full of new requisitions as the victuals always ran out. Already the 19th of September, 1395, the council of Marienburg addressed van der Halles requisition for onions, garlic, herbs, fruit, honey, cod, beer, wine – and “6 or 8 big hounds, that we need so well for the castle”. Seven days later the council at Marienburg addressed a second requisition of malt, barley, more beer and wine, flour, fish, vinegar, onions, more dogs, two big ships to defend against the Vitalian brotherhood, wooden boards, (lots of) shovels and brick trowels.

In June 1396 we learn that Stockholm castle had been divided between the Stralsund forces of Magnus van Alen and the forces of Hermann van der Halle, where the Stralsunders were using the tower for their needs and the other troops occupied the courtyard (probably in the buildings erected by duke Johann von Mecklenburg) plus a cellar belonging to the keep, as they had agreed on that this was the best way to defend the castle.

Risky business

However, it seems the stay in Stockholm wasn’t only hard work; the Vitalian brotherhood was increasingly seen in and around the city – both as visitors (even as guests of the Stockholm council during wintertime, something that worried van der Halle) and as pirates. In April 1396, the cities asked van der Halle to send what troops he could spare to the peace keeping mission against the brotherhood being set up by the League.

In June he reported that ”a good hundred” members of the brotherhood, that had spent the winter in Stockholm, finally set off for Russia under the command of eight commanders in eight freight ships and with ”gunner boats”. Van der Halle made them promise not to go after the Hanseatic merchants or cities in Livonia before they left.

In August the same year, van der Halle reported several incidents involving the pirates and merchant sailors; the situation was clearly becoming more and more dangerous for the Stockholm detachment.

Furthermore, some things indicate that the commander didn’t quite trust all of his men, as he asked his superior’s permission to send some of them home: ”if they don’t please me, I want to [be allowed to] tell them: ’Go home!'”.

It seems Hermann van der Halle was also worried about the agents of Margareta; the queen invited him to meetings several times during 1396, but he never left his post. Even when the queen sent her envoy, Sten Bengtsson, to visit Stockholm, he had to announce his visit some day ahead to be let inside the gates. The queen’s envoys also demanded (according to their view of the peace treaty) that he should open the gates to 300 Swedish burghers that had been banished from the city due to their lacking loyalty to King Albrecht. Van der Halle asked his superiors for orders concerning this, but had a hard time stopping the said burghers from coming and going to the city.

By this, we can assume that the soldiers of the League was in a constant state of readiness.


Hermann van der Halle’s successor, Albrecht Russe, arrived in Stockholm in the beginning of October 1396, accompanied by an experienced old fighter and diplomat, sent by the Elbing council. His name was Claus Wulf and he had commanded soldiers since at least 1386. Likely he was sent to command the Elbing contingent, under the command of Albrecht Russe. Russe assumed command over the garrison and no sooner, Hermann van der Halle borrowed 100 marks from Russe and left in the first ship available. More than a year later he is still struggling to get the League to pay him what it owed him for his expenses in Stockholm.

If Albrecht Russe thought he would have an easy time, he was mistaken. He had to deal with the same troubles that pestered van der Halle. He hadn’t enough men, although he had too much men to feed them properly, he had to address the issue with “uncomfortable” and probably bored and restless personell and he was working at a place where he was less than welcome by the populace and by the pirates.

However, he seems to have had his ear to the ground, as he picked up a subtle warning about events waiting to occur during the summer of 1397. When commanding Stockholm castle, Hermann van der Halle had feared that a Swedish nobleman named Algot Magnusson had struck some kind of a deal with the Vitalian brotherhood. His fears seems not to have been ungrounded, as a man came to Russe, warning him of an imminent danger. The 28th of June, a big fleet of the brotherhood arrived in Stockholm, issuing demands. One can imagine the commotion in the castle when the 100 or so soldiers at some hours notice tried to ready the defenses against a force that was 1 200 men strong. Later, Russe told his superiors that he and his men had been nowhere close to ready or strong enough, and that the city would have fallen if the brotherhood had attacked.

In January 1398, Russe complained that Margareta didn’t send money for the upkeep of Stockholm, as agreed. At the same time he asked for provisions (as always) and to be relieved of his post the upcoming easter. In the agenda of a late February League meeting the participants urge that Rostock and Wismar should pay what they owe for the keeping of Stockholm. Money was, as usual, a problem.

In May 1398 a meeting at Marienburg decided that every city involved in the mission should send 3,5 Mark worth of victuals per soldier from the city in question – a grand total of 300 Mark. This is a bit interesting as it gives us an approximate number of the garrison. At this time it seems the force in Stockholm was about 85 men strong. Maybe some of the ”uncomfortable” elements were sent home?

After this, the annals of the Hanseatic League doesn’t mention the Stockholm garrison much. The times Stockholm are mentioned, it is regarding its surrender to Margareta.


During the spring of 1398, Margareta corresponds with the cities about her accession of Stockholm. The 12th of August she states that if King Albrecht hasn’t payed his ransom by the 24th, she will ask him to surrender Stockholm to her. The 29th of August, she – along with her son Bogislav (now king of Sweden) – grants Stockholm all of its previous rights; as history tells us, the king couldn’t come up with the money. The contingent from the Hanseatic League leaves the city the 29th of September and Margareta takes over. The mission is accomplished and the soldiers return home – or sets off to find the next filled purse, perhaps as part of the ever ongoing war against the Vitalian brotherhood.

The supreme commanders from Prussia

Hermann van der Halle

When the cities’ troops first arrived in Stockholm – in August 1395, they were supervised by the Danzig council member Hermann van der Halle, as mentioned above. He was sworn in as hovetman the 1st of August, where he specifically asked that his mission as commander over Stockholm should last no longer than a year.

He had the responsibility to keep Stockholm safe, which was easier said than done. Hermann van der Halle’s letters often include reminders to his superiors that he was promised to be relieved of his post after one year; it is clear that he is not very happy in Stockholm. Maybe it had something to do with the people he was forced to work with; in July, 1396 he thanked his superiors for the long asked for permission to send “uncomfortable” individuals home. Probably he was referring to members of the Thorn contingent – he made complaints about them at a League meeting in March 1397.

The 15th of June 1396, his supervisors sent him an eagerly awaited letter – he was to be relieved – as promised – by the Thorn council member Albrecht Russe. The 3rd of September he seemed somewhat anxious to learn that Russe had fallen ill in Lübeck. In the end of the same month, van der Halle himself fell ill, and as he experienced that he was of no use to the garrison, he desperately asked his superiors to send another commander as soon as they were able.

He seems to have pulled through, though, as he was present at a League meeting in Marienburg, the 31st of December, 1396.

Albrecht Russe

The Thorn council member Albrechts Russe (or “Albrecht Rusze” as he spelled it himself – an indication of his perhaps Russian descent) was appointed council member of Thorn 1393. This might well have been his first commission, where he acted as a representative for the city at various League meetings. During his career he also acted as a bailiff, mediator and solicitor, as well as councillor and mayor in the same city. He acted as a diplomat during various diplomatic postings, and was probably also a shipowner responsible for Thorn’s trading relations with Poland. A heavy weighter, no doubt.

In 1396 it is decided that he is to succeed the commander of the Stockholm garrison, Hermann van der Halle. The 14th of September 1396, Russe sends word that he plans to depart from Wismar to Stockholm the 29th of September. It is probable that he arrived in Stockholm less than a week later, which means his predecessor could take the first boat home and the heck out of Dodge during the first days of October.

Russe assumed command at the most critical period of the Hanseatic administration of the Swedish capital. The evening of the 29th of June, 1397, a fleet of 42 ships and 1 200 men, commanded by “Otto von Peckatel [former commander of the Stockholm garrison], Sven Stur, Crabbe, Egkart Kale, Kawle and other commanders that I do not know” reached Stockholm. It was a fleet belonging to the Vitalian brotherhood. It had sailed from Gotland where King Albrecht’s son Erich had put up his headquarters, along with several notable nobles – among others the duke Johann von Mecklenburg who was evicted from his house in Stockholm castle in 1395. This means that Erich von Mecklenburg took active part in the piracy that Margareta, the Teutonic order and the Hanseatic league was trying to thwart, even though he was released on bail. Perhaps this was his way to raise money for the ransom. Either way: talk about stirring the pot…

Russe sent a letter to his superiors recounting what had taken place that evening. Its contents were read out and addressed at a League meeting in Danzig the 2nd of July, three days later.

The two sides met at a small isle outside Stockholm to parlay. The fleet commanders demanded to be let inside the city, but the officials of Stockholm refused. The fleet then demanded 10 000 loaves of bread and 20 “last” (= 200 plus barrels = more than 43 000 liters) of beer. The commanders of Stockholm refused a second time, and the fleet commanders asked to buy the commodities they needed. Again they are refused; the Stockholm officials suspected treason as Albrecht Russe had received a warning some time earlier.

He tells his superiors:

A good man came to me and told me to guard the castle well – or be in dire hardship. Then I told him: ”My dear friend, can’t you speak your mind?” He said that he couldn’t tell me. He kneeled, and put two fingers on a brick, and spoke thus: ”Brick! I tell you this, as God and the Saints help me: Stockholm is betrayed!” He rose and reached his arms towards the sky and spoke: ”So help me God until my last day – what I have sworn here is the truth!” He would tell me nothing more.

After this, Russe asked for more provisions and reinforcements (“good people”) as he believed Stockholm to be in real danger. However, the fleet departed and left Stockholm alone. The League responded by ordering that one of the gates in Stockholm should be walled shut, perhaps as part of the defenses against the brotherhood.

Like his predecessor, Albrecht Russe constantly asked to be relieved, which makes you wonder what kind of a place Stockholm was. In late summer 1397, the League sent him a letter and told him that he, in time, was going to be relieved from his post by a representative from Elbing. It is uncertain if he ever was relieved or if he remained on his post until the mission in Stockholm ended.

”Här lyktas Konunga styrsl” – kort om 1300-talets fursteideal.

Jag har tittat lite närmare på vår svenska furstespegel Konungastyrelsen  och idéerna bakom medeltida rådgivningslitteratur, som jag tänkte presentera i en kort serie om 2-3 blogginlägg.

/F. Carrasco


Del I. Om medeltida furstespeglar

I sin strävan att legitimera och stärka sin auktoritet vände sig de medeltida kungaätterna till den katolska kyrkan. Den byråkratiska och institutionella kapacitet som kyrkans stöd medförde innebar att politik och religion blev starkt sammanbundet. I utbyte mot sitt stöd strävade kyrkofäderna efter att fostra regenterna till att styra sina riken i enighet med den kristna läran. I denna fostringsprocess författades så kallade furstespeglar, på latin specula principis, i syfte att instruera de världsliga härskarna i sina plikter och skyldigheter samt att klargöra att kungen var insatt i sitt ämbete av Gud. Kungatiteln utökades med beteckningen Dei Gratia eller av Guds nåde genom den kyrkliga ritual som blev allt vanligare, framförallt bland de karolingiska kungarna på 700- och 800-talen, där kungen kröntes av påven.

Med tiden ökade de påvliga ambitionerna att stå över de världsliga ledarna och politiska tvistemål uppstod. Framförallt handlade konflikterna om vilka av ledarna, de andliga eller världsliga, som hade rätt att ge biskoparna investitur. Konflikten kulminerade under senare delen av 1000-talet då den tysk-romerske kejsaren Henrik IV, efter att ha blivit bannlyst och inför risken om inbördeskrig, tvingades söka bot hos påven. Investiturstriden såg sitt slut genom konkordatet i Worms år 1122 då Henriks efterföljare gick med på en kompromiss som innebar att kejsarmakten stärktes i Tyskromerska riket, medan påvens auktoritet stärktes i de italienska staterna.

Efter maktkampen kring sekelskiftet 1100 tvingades regenterna söka nya teorier för sin auktoritet, och i samband med översättningen av Aristoteles ”Politiken” på 1260-talet öppnades nya filosofiska möjligheter. Marsilius av Paduas ”Fredens försvarare” från 1324 genomsyrades av den aristoteliska läran och skildrade staten som en organism där kyrkan ingick med enda syfte att predika och förmedla sakramenten. Vidare skrev Aegidius Romanus under 1280-talet De regimine principum, vilken översattes till franska (Livre du gouvernement des roys et des princes) åt Kung Filip den sköne. Intressant nog beställdes ytterligare en översatt utgåva av en borgare i Orléans.



Originalskriften av vår svenska furstespegel Konungastyrelsen (Um Styrilse Konunga ok Höfdinga) har tyvärr gått förlorad. Däremot existerar fragment från en avskrift daterad till senare delen av 1400-talet, vars ursprung spårats till Vadstena kloster. Det avskrivna fragmentet som består av två blad folio skrivna på pergament, upptäcktes under 1860-talet i Finland där det använts som omslag till en räkenskapsbok från 1563. En fullständig avskriven utgåva av Konungastyrelsen publicerades 1634 av Johan Bure och utgör idag den enda kompletta kvarlevan av texten.

Bure skriver i inledningen på sin utgåva att han återgett texten ordagrant, något vi enligt filologen Lennart Moberg inte kan ta för givet. I en av Bures tidigare texter som han kallat Vttydhning (Uttydning) framgår det nämligen tydligt att vissa ord och stavningar i Konungastyrelsen korrigerats eller lagts till. Moberg menar dock att textens ursprungliga fornsvenska är så pass märkbar att vi endast i undantagsfall kan räkna med Bures korrigering, som i dessa fall syftar till förtydligande eller kompletterande parenteser. Bure verkar med undantag för de tydliga 1600-talstermerna balkar och flockar som i texten fungerar som kapitel, ägnat originalskriften stor omsorg och endast korrigerat i syfte att göra den mer begriplig. Den svårtydda fornsvenskan är något Bure även beklagar sig över i förordet på sin avskrift.

Dateringen av Konungastyrelsen har debatterats inom forskningen under det senaste seklet. Utgångspunkten för textens tillkomst fixerades av K.F. Söderwall i verket Studier öfver Konunga-styrelsen. Söderwall uppmärksammar olika språkdrag som tyder på att texten är skriven på klassisk fornsvenska och att den därmed inte kan dateras senare än till 1300-talets mitt. Tidigast tillkomstdatum borde ligga strax efter 1280 eftersom författaren till Konungastyrelsen tydligt använt sig av Egidius Romanus furstespegel som förebild – bara titlarna är misstänksamt lika på respektive språk.

Skriftens uppfostrande retorik pekar onekligen på att den författats åt en ung (kanske till och med) omyndig kung, det har därför varit av stort intresse för forskare att konstatera vem författaren egentligen var…


Läs mer

Timeline of Swedish politics 1306-1412

History during the 14th century can be quite confusing, and it’s more or less impossible to write a chronology in common prose. That is why we have made this timeline. Hopefully it will help you out when trying to understand the different schemes, alliances and events that took place during the period.

Click the tiny image to make it (a lot) bigger.


Read the 14th century history of Sweden in more detail in these pages:
A 14th century political history of Sweden, part 1 – The beginning
A 14th century political history of Sweden, part 2 – The struggle of the lawmaker
A 14th century political history of Sweden, part 3 – The age of the king
A 14th century political history of Sweden, part 4 – Defeat and union
This page may also be helpful:
Family tree of Swedish royals during the 14th century

Family tree of Swedish royals during the 14th century

When you are trying to understand the battle of the crown in 14th century Sweden, you will pretty soon be quite mixed up in relations. This family tree is simplified to show which people held keep positions in the struggle.

In short, ”our” king Albrecht was king Magnus Eriksson’s sister’s son, which meant he could make a (kind of) legitimate claim for the throne. Margareta Valdemarsdotter was married to Håkan Magnusson, Magnus Eriksson’s son, which meant her son Olof Håkansson could make a (kind of) legitimate claim for the throne. When he died at the age of 17, Margareta adopted her sister Ingeborg Valdemarsdotter’s grandson, Bogislav of Pomerania (who was also the grandson of ”our” Albrecht’s brother), which meant that he could claim the throne. Legitimate? Well, you tell me… That was the short version. The more elaborate story begins in this post.

We have chosen to be extra specific when it comes to king Albrecht’s immediate family (his name on this image is Albrecht III von Mecklenburg). Other characters of note is the strongheaded duchess Ingeborg Håkansdotter, mother of king Magnus Eriksson and self-appointed ruler of the realm, and her husband, the duke Erik Magnusson, who was put in a tower to starve to death by his brother Birger. Also, there is Håkan Magnusson – king of Norway and faithful son of king Magnus (not to mention king Erik Magnusson – the unfaithful son of king Magnus). Also, have a special look at the foster relation between Bogislav of Pomerania (to the far left) and his grandmother’s sister – queen Margareta of Denmark; the duo ruled Sweden after the defeat of king Albrecht, and when Margareta died, Bogislav ruled the entire Kalmar union.

Click the image to view a bigger version. We apologize for the colors, which look like they have been stolen from a nursery from the 1960’s…



This page might make more sense together with the following pages:
Timeline of Swedish politics 1306-1412
A 14th century political history of Sweden, part 1 – The beginning
A 14th century political history of Sweden, part 2 – The struggle of the lawmaker
A 14th century political history of Sweden, part 3 – The age of the king
A 14th century political history of Sweden, part 4 – Defeat and union
Who was Albrecht of Mecklenburg?

A 14th century political history of Sweden, part 4 – Defeat and union

Winds of war

After the meeting at Dalaborg, Margareta starts to gather an army to fight the king, But Albrecht is not sitting idle. He makes the burghers of Stockholm renew their oath of fealty to him and departs for Germany to muster troops. Margareta is ahead of him, and with an army of Swedes her supporters besiege the stronghold of Axvalla. It is too strong to take by storm, and a long siege lead by Nils Svarte Skåning begins. The main part of the army marches on, under the command of Erik Kettilsson Puke (whose name has got nothing to do with throwing up).

Around new year 1389 Albrecht returns to Sweden with a host of men. He disembarks at Kalmar and march on Axvall. On the way there, he passes the south peak of lake Vättern, and manage to liberate the besieged Rumlaborg. When he reaches Axvall he also receives word that a Danish army, under the command of his old retainer Henrik Parow has been marching from Halland and is about to join the army of Erik Kettilsson Puke. Albrecht turn south to face the two armys, and the 24th of february they meet outside the village of Åsle, in the vicinity of Falköping.

The chronicler Detmar describes it like this:

In deme jare Cristi 1389, in sunte Mathias dage, was grot strid in Sweden bi Axewalde. De koninghinne van Norwegen hade dar sand wol vifteynhundert gewapent. Der hovetman was en riddere, de heet her Hinrik Parowe.

On this day of Christ 1389, in saint Matthew’s day, it was a great battle in Sweden by Axvall. The queen of Norway had sent a good fifteenhundred armed. The commander was a knight that was called Henrik Parow.

Henrik Parow’s troops take a defensive position flanked by a mountain and a marshland, which also stretches in front of his lines. Albrecht is eager to engage, and he is certain of victory; his host consists of glorious German knights and trained mercenaries. But everyone is not as sure as he is. Tradition tells us that an old knight called Tyke Olofsson asked the king to refrain from attacking, or at least try to negotiate the marshland before charging. ”We do not want to fight the Dane this day – it won’t do us any good.” he concluded, but the king wouldn’t listen. Even though some of his men weren’t ready, he lead his knights, including the bishop of Skara, his cousins and the counts of Ruppin and Holstein, on a charge across the frozen land and at first he was very successful: he ”conquered two banners”. But the battle would not go his way. One of his commanders, Gerhard Snakenborg, turned and fled the battlefield with 60 riders, and others is said to have stuck in the boggy ground.


In less than two months, through snow and during very harsh conditions, king Albrecht’s army marched over 300 kilometers – and had time to stop and liberate Rumlaborg before fighting at Åsle

The king was taken captive along with his son, prince Erich, and as they were taken from the field of battle by their captors, they passed Tyke Olofsson. The king cried out to him: ”Old man! Old man! Why didn’t I listen?” The battle of Åsle is a decisive victory for the rebels, but their commander, Henrik Parow, is killed. When the queen learns of the victory she rides to Bohus where she and her supporters celebrate their victory. The king and his son are eventually taken to Skåne and the castle of Lindholmen, where they are being held captive.

German resistance

Even though Margareta managed to beat her enemy at the battlefield, her fight for dominion of Sweden was far from over. Although she conquers Kalmar, Rumlaborg and Axvall, Stockholm is still in German hands, and the burghers of the city refuse to give up the fight. They are being supported by the Hansa, which send warships to commandeer ships belonging to the supporters of Margareta. They also bring food and soldiers to the besieged Stockholm. On a different note, these ships, crewed by knights, burghers, soldiers and peasants, according to Detmar, later cause much trouble on the Baltic sea as pirates (so called Vitalianer). As they are allowed to enter the harbours of the Mecklenburgish Wismar and Rostock, other Hansa cities, which suffered economic losses due to pirate attacks,  started to lose interest in the conflict between the Mecklenburgish dukes that supported Albrechts and the queen Margareta. Nevertheless, some of the Hanseatic towns, Rostock among some others, make alliances with noblemen and other cities to try to force Margareta into releasing Albrecht; among other things they try to enforce a trade embargo against Margareta. But their efforts are of little use. Some, like the old Albrecht-loyal knight Vicke van Vitzen even sells his estates to Margareta and swear loyalty to her. He was not the only one to do so.


The aggressive Vitalianer pirates put a hamper on trade in the Baltic sea. Many ships were just anchored as the risk of sailing was too great

In 1393 the conflict is putting a big hamper on trade in the Baltic sea, not least because of the Vitalianer. Margareta met with representatives from the Hansa and king Albrecht’s nephew Johann in Falsterbo at the end of September. At this meeting it was agreed that Albrecht and his son should be let free from captivity for a couple of years, until the parties had reached an acceptable agreement. As security, the city of Stockholm was to be handed over to four honest men, which should let Margareta occupy it if the king refused to go back to captivity after the said time.

The war goes on – but so does the negotiations

In July 1394 everyone finally seemed to agree. The king and his son had been imprisoned for more than five years, and the king himself probably knew that his days as king of Sweden were numbered. He was to be released against a huge ransom of 60 000 marks of silver (the old king Magnus bought the entire province of Skåne for about half as much in the 1330’s), and if that sum wasn’t paid back in six months, the king and his son should return into captivity, or the queen would be entitled to occupy Stockholm. At the same meeting, Margareta and the Hansa also agreed on taking actions against the Vitalianer, as they were still a serious problem for great parts of northern Europe. During the 1390’s tremendous efforts were put on ridding the Baltic sea from pirates. Several fleets with several thousand men hunted the Vitalianer and drove them from whatever harbors the controlled.

The final negotiations for the king’s release took place at Lindholmen were king Albrecht and his son had been spending their time since the defeat at Åsle. The 26th of September 1395 it is decided that Albrecht and his son should be released for a period of three years (until the 29th of September 1398), during which time they should try to raise the enormous ransom. If he succeeded, he wasn’t allowed to wage war on Margareta for at least a year. If he didn’t succeed, he could go back to prison but break the peace in nine weeks, or he could simply let Margareta have Stockholm and the peace should be everlasting. Albrecht was released in Helsingborg at the end of September 1395, about a month after Stockholm was entrusted to the Hanseatic cities (read more here) of Königsberg, Elbing, Thorn, Danzig, Reval, Greifswald, Lübeck and Stralsund, as a kind of peace keeping force, while Albrecht and Erich started to round up the money needed for the ransom. Their efforts was however in vain, and in 1398 the cities’ representatives leave Stockholm, allowing Margareta to occupy the city. The conflict between king Albrecht and Margareta is definetely over.


Today the castle of Lindholmen is nothing more than a grassy mound, but in the 14th century it was one of the most important castles in the entire Danish realm

A free man

Albrecht returned to his Mecklenburg of old and ruled the land for years. In a letter dated 25th of November 1405, in the end, he was able to forgive the peoples of Sweden, Norway and Denmark for what evil they had bestowed upon him. The same date he also writes other letters, in which he states that he will no longer claim Swedish regions, but rather support his son, duke Erich. Albrecht dies 1412, and with him dies the Mecklenburg dynasty’s hopes for the Swedish throne.

Margareta, Bogislav and the Kalmar union

Margareta, her adoptive son Bogislav, the Swedish council and many other Swedish nobles were gathered in 1396 to the recess of Nyköping, which in short meant that the crown reclaims all estates and all land that has been given or claimed since 1363, when king Albrecht came to power. All strongholds an castles that was built during those years should be torn down if the queen so wished. But that wasn’t all that was discussed. The most important thing at the meeting was that the congregated potentates agreed that none of the three Nordic realms should wage war on oneanother. They had ”in all these kingdoms one lord and king”. The young Bogislav of Pomerania could look forward to a splendid position as king over a great realm.

He was crowned in 1397, and at the same time the Kalmar union was signed between the three kingdoms. The statutes of the union stipulated, among other things, that the descendants of the king should inherit the crown – a direct dichotomy to the Landslag, accepted in the middle of the 14th century. Also, each country should have right to their own laws, but at the same time they should henceforth be seen as one kingdom – under ine king. Margareta was still holding the reins until 1400 when Bogislav came of age and at least formally took over power from his mother. He reigned the new union between 1400-1439 with two interludes. He was however forced to change his name into the more proper Swedish name Erik – Bogislav was too strange a name for the Scandinavians.

1400 Erik came of age, and rode his Eriksgata the following year, but his mother was still holding most of the power; she was in no way willing to let go of her influence.

In 1402 Margareta negotiated with Henry IV of England to be able to marry Erik with Henry’s daughter Philippa. The negotiations went well, and Erik and Philippa was married in Lund 1406.

He, his young queen and his mother worked hard to strengthen the three kingdoms against first and foremost the Germans, in the form of the Hansa and the Teutonic order. Their measures included instating foreign vasalls to control Sweden, which eventually lead to unrest amongst the population.

Before that, however, they declared war in the Hansa, as they considered the trade confederation too powerful. On the side of the Hansa, the Holsteiners joined, and the Baltic region was thrown into a war that lasted until 1435, with some armistices.

Margareta died the 28th of October 1412, when negotiating for the city of Flensburg, which had been seized by the Holsteiners. She is buried in a magnificent sarcophagus in Roskilde cathedral in Denmark. Curiously enough, king Albrecht died the same year, the 31st of March or 1st of April. He was laid to rest alongside Richardis in the Doberaner Münster in Bad Doberan of the Mecklenburg area.

This article was written by Peter Ahlqvist.

This article is the final part of four. Read more in the same series here:
A 14th century political history of Sweden, part 1 – The beginning
A 14th century political history of Sweden, part 2 – The struggle of the lawmaker
A 14th century political history of Sweden, part 3 – The age of the king 

These pages might also prove useful:
Timeline of Swedish politics 1306-1412
Family tree of Swedish royals during the 14th century
Would you like to read more about Albrecht of Mecklenburg? Click here.

A 14th century political history of Sweden, part 3 – The age of the king

Long live the king

The war against Magnus Eriksson had been an expensive one. Magnus had acted decisively when Albrecht went to Åbo to continue the siege after his marsk (marshal/military commander) Nils Turesson was killed in 1364. As mentioned, Magnus’ actions culminated in the battle of Gataskogen, where he was captured. At the opposing side were German knights, for example the mentioned Henrik van Ouwen, Rawen van Barnekow and Vicke van Vitzen. They expected compensation and rewards for their loyalty, but the Swedish coffers were appallingly empty and Albrecht had to find another way to pay off his countrymen. His solution was to grant the foreging knights land. During his first year as a king the young king was forced to pawn more than half of his kingdom. The Swedish nobles were outraged, which is easy to understand; if the king pawned land to Germans, there wasn’t much land left for them.

Furthermore, the Germans tended to see the Swedish commoners as little more than resources to be exploited. The Swedish model with a free, armed peasant class with extensive rights wasn’t at all what the Germans were used to, so they merely scoffed at the commoners’ claims. A chronicler described them as ”birds of prey” and it was generally agreed that the new masters ruled against tradition and law. In Sweden it was formally peace, as the old king Magnus had recognized Albrecht as king. This meant that nobody needed German and Danish mercenaries, which as a result became unemployed. In the following years the unemployed soldiers drifted through the lands, pillaging and stealing.


These German mercenaries take what they want – from who they want

An old verse tells the tale of the relentless robbers

Jak wil idher tydha aff then rääff 
som wäl weet badhe hool oc grääff
ther menar iak mz then legodräng
som haffuer fordarffuat badhe aker oc äng
the wilia alla til hoffua rijda 
widh bondans kornladu at strijda
fik han eena kogerbysso oc pijla vti
tha skulle iw bonden til skogen fly
spangat bälte oc krusat haar
rostad swärd oc staalhandske widh hans laar
rijdher i gardh oc gar i stuffua
sidhan wil han fatiga bondan truffua
hustru huar är tin vnga höna
then skal tu ey länger for mik löna
ligger hon sik i bänk eller pall
bär henne fram oc äggen all
hon sitter ey sa högt a rang
iak slar henne nider mz min spiwtz stang
haffuer tu ey meer än ena gaas
then skulom wij i apton haffua til kraas
han beder uptända fempton lius
han drykker oc skrölar i fullan duus
thz monde the edela bönder söria
at legodrängar skola tolkin leek vpböria

I would like to tell you about the fox
That well know both hole and ditch
I mean by this the mercenary
Who has destroyed both field and meadow
They will all happily ride
By the farmer’s larder to fight
If he had a quivergun with arrows
The farmer would flee to the forests
Belt with metal plaques and curled hair
Rusty sword and a steel gauntlet by his thigh
He rides to the farms and goes in the house
Then he likes to force the poor peasant
Wife, where is your young hen
You should not hide it from me anymore
If she lies under bench or stool
Bring her to me along with her eggs
If she sits high on her perch
I will strike her down with my spear
Have you not more than a single goose
Tonight we’ll have it for a meal
He says to light fifteen candles
He drinks a shouts and feasts
That the noble peasants may mourn
That mercenaries should start such a game

This was, of course, a rebellion waiting to happen. But Albrecht was in no way out of the game. 1375 the old Danish king Valdemar Atterdag died, which meant that king Albrecht’s family could have a real shot at the Danish throne. Atterdag’s son Kristoffer was killed in 1363, which meant that the son of his oldest daughter Ingeborg was next in line. The good thing about this was that Ingeborg was married to duke Heinrich of Mecklenburg, king Albrecht’s older brother. Furthermore, Valdemar had signed a treaty with the Mecklenburgers in 1371, where he promised that the grandson in question should inherit the crown. Everything seemed to go Albrecht’s way – if his nephew, also an Albrecht, could be put on the throne of Denmark he would not only be rid of an enemy – he would also gain a powerful and rich ally.

There was only one problem. The treaty with the Mecklenburgers was never ratified by the Danish council. Instead the Danish nobles referred to an earlier, and ratified, agreement with the Hansa, where it was stated that the Hanseatic cities had a say when it came to which king that would rule Denmark if Valdemar should perish.

Enter Margareta

The Danish nobles turned to Margareta, the younger sister of Ingeborg. She had a son with Håkan of Norway, and because of Norwegian law he had already inherited the throne after his father. His name was Olof, and it was on him that the Danish highborns put their money. The conflict was a fact. The Mecklenburgers and the Holsteiners make an alliance to put young Albrecht on the Danish throne. They are lead by the old duke Albrecht of Mecklenburg – king Albrecht’s father, and invade Skåne in the end of the 1370’s. However, they achieve very little, and old Albrecht dies in the beginning of 1379. At this point king Albrecht of Sweden join the war to support young Albrecht (confused yet? It’s Albrecht VI von Mecklenburg who is in question here) in his struggle for the throne and to try and reclaim Halland and Skåne. He too achieves little, and in 1380 Danes and Norwegians burn the cities of Jönköping, Skara, Örebro and Västerås. In 1381, the war comes to a standstill and eventually it is discontinued. This, in effect, meant that the young Olof was elected king even in Denmark. As he was a minor, his mother ruled in his place, something that probably suited her quite well.

The mightiest man in Sweden


Albrecht may have been king, but in fact, he ruled very little of Sweden. Bo Jonsson Grip, the king’s drots (which meant he was the second in charge and also the supreme judge of Sweden) owned most parts of Sweden, including all of Finnland and the vast region of what was then called Hälsingland (now Norrland). More specifically, he owned or administered Stockholm, Nyköping, Kalmar, Viborg, Raseborg, Tavastehus, Korsholm, Öresten, Oppensten and Rumlaborg counties. But all good things must come to an end, and Bo Jonsson died in 1386. If king Albrecht could get his hands on even half of those estates, farms and castles, his fiscal problems would be over in a glimpse. He thought up a plan, and summoned the ten executors that were appointed to administer the deceased drots’ assets. None of them showed up, which was probably a wise move, but at the same time they took a stand by disobeying a direct order from the king.

But the king had another plan. He tried to force the widow of the drots, Margareta Dume, to choose him as her guardian. At the same time he wanted to reclaim lands and estates that the nobles ”unlawfully” claimed after the uprising in 1371. Last but not least he wanted to impose a special tax which would include otherwise tax-exempted lands. This was too much for the nobles, and as usual they tried to replace one master with another. They turned to Margareta and her young son Olof, king of Denmark and Norway. As Olof was a nephew of the late Magnus Eriksson (the ex-king who drowned), he was in fact entitled to compete for the Swedish throne. Ironically, it was just what the nobles feared in 1363, only now they saw it as their only chance to get rid of a hated garp (a medieval Swedish word for both a German and for someone who is a pain in the ass).

Allmighty mistress and proper master

Everything seemed to be set, and the Swedish nobility turned their hopes to the daughter of their old arch enemy, but the 3rd of Augusti 1387 Olof suddenly died from disease. It is easy to imagine that king Albrecht said his evening prayers with unusual enthusiasm when he heard the news. In theory, nothing could stop him now. Margareta was in an extremely precarious situation; her position, her power – her whole life – depended on her status as the queen mother of Olof. Now that he was dead she would quickly be swept aside. Only, she weren’t. A week after the death of her son she was elected protector of Denmark and ”allmighty mistress and proper master”. It is equally easy to imagine how king Albrecht just skipped his evening prayers when he heard those news. In february 1388 she was also elected sovereign of Norway. Her sister Ingeborg’s grandchild Bogislav of Pomerania, whom she adopted, was elected her successor.


Margareta Valdemarsdotter. Powerful. Clever. Scheming.

In March 1388, one month after the election in Norway, she met the leaders of the opposition against the king at the Swedish castle Dalaborg, deep into territories that the king never really was able to master, at the western beach of lake Vänern. Most of them were part of the council; nine of the 12 members of the council were the above mentioned executors appointed by Bo Jonsson Grip. It is no exaggeration to state that those that congregated at Dalaborg were enemies of the king. They elected Margareta as allmighty mistress and proper master of Sweden, on behalf of the people and the realm.

This article was written by Peter Ahlqvist.

Read the fourth and final part here.


This article is the third part of four. Read more in the same series here:
A 14th century political history of Sweden, part 1 – The beginning
A 14th century political history of Sweden, part 2 – The struggle of the lawmaker
A 14th century political history of Sweden, part 4 – Defeat and union

These pages might also prove useful:
Timeline of Swedish politics 1306-1412
Family tree of Swedish royals during the 14th century

Who was Albrecht of Mecklenburg?


Albrecht with his first wife Richardis of Schwerin. Rest in peace

Would you like to know more about Albrecht of Mecklenburg? Read more about his life here.

King Albrecht I of Sweden has already been presented by name in a number of articles, but until now we haven’t really had the opportunity to get to know him. The man that was to be Albrecht I of Sweden, was born around 1339 (the sources state everything between 1338 to 1340) as the second son of duke Albrecht II of Mecklenburg (1318-1379), and Eufemia Eriksdotter (1317-1370), sister of the Swedish Magnus Eriksson – a man that was to be contesting with Albrecht of the throne. In other words – these relationships made our Albrecht next in turn to the Swedish crown, after king Magnus Eriksson and his son Håkan. Albrecht’s father ruled the Mecklenburg area at the north coast of Germany between 1329 and 1379, and that was a task that would later pass on to our Albrecht after his elder brother Heinrich (III von Mecklenburg) had died in 1384.

Speaking of Heinrich – he married Ingeborg Valdemarsdotter, daughter of the Danish king Valdemar. Heinrich’s son, Albrecht IV of Mecklenburg, would later take part in the struggle for both the Danish and the Swedish thrones, as he was Valdemar’s grandson.

Apart from Heinrich, Albrecht had three siblings: Ingeborg, Magnus and Anna, but none of them played any significant role in Swedish politics.

When Albrecht got the opportunity to be the king of Sweden, he was in his early twenties. He came from a relatively small area in northern Germany, but what his country lacked in size it regained in diplomacy and ruthlessness. Still, it must have been hard stepping onto a throne in a country where everybody behaved differently and, for the most part, saw you as either a tyrant or a puppet – even with your experienced father backing you up. Albrecht went through a number of difficult situations, which he handled with various amount of success, before he retired to Mecklenburg to rule the area until his death.

Albrecht married Richardis von Schwerin, the daughter of Otto von Schwerin, the year 1359. A contract of marriage had been set up in Wismar seven years earlier. The couple had at least three children; the sources indicate another daughter, but this is not confirmed. The three children were Erik (1359/1365-1397), which was to be Albrecht’s successor for the throne of Sweden, Richardis Katarina (born 1370/1372-1400) and Johann.

Richardis died in 1377, and Albrecht married Agnes von Braunschweig, the daughter of Magnus von Braunschweig, the 12th-13th of February 1396. They had a son in 1397, known as Albrecht V. He didn’t get any children of his own, and died in 1423, only 26 years old.

Albrecht himself died the 31st of March or 1st of April 1412, the same year as his nemesis Margareta, and was laid to rest in the Doberaner Münster church, close to Rostock.


A 14th century political history of Sweden, part 2 – The struggle of the lawmaker

Skåne is lost

The Hanseatic/Swedish attack on Valdemar and Helsingborg is a fiasco. The joint effort is disorganized and lacking in communication. The Hanseatic fleet lose 12 cogs (for which Johan Wittenborg, the mayor of Lübeck and also the commander of the fleet, is executed on his return to Lübeck). Evenso, the battle is a huge loss also for king Valdemar; his son, prince Kristoffer, is hit by a stone (probably from some kind of siege engine – the sources doesn’t mention any kind of firearms. Even so, a 16th century source states that he was shot by some kind of gun) and dies a year after the attack. Soon after the battle, the Hanseatic league and Valdemar agree to a truce – against the will of king Magnus. Skåne was irrevokably lost.


Duke Kristoffer, son of Valdemar Atterdag. He was mortally wounded at the battle of Helsingborg 1362, but didn’t die until 1363

A troublesome king

But the troubles began even before Magnus lost Skåne. Let’s look at the time before Magnus lost the wealthy province. When Magnus came of age he didn’t seem to share the Swedish nobles’ point of view of what is good for the country. He started to restrict the power of the nobles, and tried to make Sweden a country where the crown is passed down from father to son, as in Norway, where he also is king. Not surprisingly, this was bad news for the nobles – they wanted to put a weak king of their choice on the throne, not the son of an independent, mighty ruler. In the so called Magnus Eriksson’s Landslag (”The Magnus Eriksson law of the land”) of 1349 it is therefore stated:

Nu ær til kunungx rikit i Suerike kununger væliande ok ey ærvande
Now is to the kingdom of Sweden king elected and not inherited

Furthermore, it states that a man that is to be elected king is someone:

Huilkin en af inrikis føddum – ok hælzt af kununge sunum
Who is born in the kingdom and preferably son of a king.

Landslagen was composed by a council of lawmen, headed by the father of Birgitta Birgersdotter (internationally known as saint Bridget/saint Birgitta), and based on earlier county laws. This is the first law to pertain to the country as a whole, hence its name, and therefore an important milestone in the forging of a state. Even though Landslagen bears his name, Magnus never officially sanctioned it, quite possibly because he did not agree on above cited paragraphs…

Noble malcontent and a jealous son

King Magnus had two sons with his queen, Blanka of Namur. They were called Erik and Håkan and their father managed to get them both elected as king. Håkan, the younger, was to become king of Norway when he was old enough. He acceeded the Norwegian throne in 1355. Erik was to succeed his father at the throne of Sweden, and as his father was still decently young, it looked like a long wait for Erik. At this time the young nobleman Bengt Algotsson enters the arena. He is hardly mentioned in the sources before the king’s second crusade against the russians in 1350, but only five years later he had become dubbed a knight, gained a seat in the king’s council and was appointed duke of both Finnland and Halland. No doubt he was important to the king, but noone knows exactly why. Rumours of a homosexual relationship between the king and Bengt circulated. The gossip worsened after the Black Death hit Sweden in 1349-1350; Birgitta Birgersdotter, which had become very powerful due to her status as soon-to-be-saint, declared that the plague was caused by the wearing of immoral clothing and, worse, the king’s scandalous relation to another man. She dubs him Kung Smek (”King Fondle”), a derogative that sadly has survived through the ages and stuck to this otherwise quite able king. It is hard to tell if there is any truth in the claims, but frankly, it is not really important.


A 15th century painting of Saint Birgitta of Sweden

Erik rushed into action. He knew that many of the nobles hated Algotsson and his sudden rise to power. Most of them were also outraged by the king’s will to restrict the power of both the clergy and the nobles. It was very clear that Magnus wasn’t as weak as they had hoped, and now he was a direct threat to their way of life. Another part of the parcel concerned Magnus’ debts. Some of the nobles stood as guarantee and had to pay his creditors. On top of it all, Magnus faced excommunication for his disability to pay his debts to the pope. He and a band of nobles, as well as five of Sweden’s seven bishops, declare war on Bengt Algotsson in october 1356. This is in part a covert war on Magnus, who doesn’t take any particular action against his son. In 1357 a treaty is signed. Magnus agrees on giving his son great parts of the kingdom to his son. Erik takes on the title of king of Sweden, and banishes Bengt Algotsson from his new kingdom. Bengt Algotsson flees to Scania, where he is killed some years later (mentioned in this article). The new king of Sweden rules the country along with his father for two years, and constantly takes the liberty of ignoring the statutes of the treaty from 1357. His reign, though, doesn’t last very long. He dies in 1359 and Magnus becomes sole king again.

Even more trouble

In 1363 Magnus’ remaining son, Håkan, king of Norway, is forced to honor an agreement with his father’s nemesis king Valdemar. Before the troubles began, he was betrothed to Valdemar’s daughter Margareta. When her father waged war on Sweden, Håkan broke the agreement and made a new one: he betrothed Elisabet of Holstein, sister of count Henrik of Holstein, in 1361. In late winter 1362 she was sailing to Sweden with her escort to marry Håkan, but a storm drove the ship to Bornholm, which was controlled by the archbishop of Lund – loyal to king Valdemar. The archbishop declared that no marriage could take place between Håkan and Elisabet, as this was against canonic law; from the archbishop’s point of view Håkan was still to marry Margareta. They tied the knot in 1363.


Hammershus at the island of Bornholm, south of Skåne. This must have been a formidable fortress in its day

The Swedish nobles seethed with fury. Their arch enemy Valdemar was now bound to Sweden, which could well mean that a son born by his daughter could be king of Sweden – and run his grandfather’s errands. Meanwhile, the counts of Holstein were disappointed as their possibility of an important alliance was made impossible. The Hanseatic league worried about which consequences this new alliance could have when it came to their influence in Sweden and at the market of Skanör and Falsterbo.

Even more noble malcontent

The Swedish nobles acted first. Some of them, including the powerful Bo Jonsson Grip, went to Mecklenburg to offer duke Albrecht the crown of Sweden. His son, Albrecht the younger, was appointed the task. But what about that Landslag, which stated that a Swedish king must be born in Sweden? No problem. In this article you will learn the background of why Albrecht was actually related to king Magnus. In fact, he was his nephew, as Magnus’ sister Eufemia was married to Albrecht the elder. This was part of the politics of Magnus’ and Eufemia’s mother duchess Ingeborg before her campaign against Skåne in 1322.

Enter the Germans

Many of the burghers in the Swedish cities were actually Germans, which meant that the cities joined the two Albrechts when they and the Swedish nobles arrived in Stockholm with a fleet and about 1 500 soldiers the 29th of November 1363. The same day the burghers of Stockholm swear allegiance to Albrecht the younger and promise to ”live and die” with him. This marks the beginning of a time of strife; Magnus and his son Håkan of course had one or two things to say about the new ”king”, and mustered troops to face the invaders. In february 1364 Albrecht the younger was really elected king, and by july Håkan and Magnus are forced to negitiations after losing the castle at Örebro and the newly erected Svaneholm. A truce is signed by both parts but in the autumn the hostilities continues, and Albrecht himself lead the siege of Åbo castle in Finnland.


The 3rd of March 1365 Magnus and Håkan march from Arboga to Västerås, determined to capture Stockholm. Just before they reach Enköping they encounter an army of Albrecht loyalists at Gataskog under the command of Henrik van Ouwen. Father and son suffer a bitter defeat. Håkan is badly wounded but manage to flee the battlefield, while Magnus is captured and taken to Stockholm. The remaining forces of Håkan and Magnus withdraw to Västerås and Arboga. During the summer they negotiate for terms with king Albrecht’s vassal Raven van Barnekow, bailiff of Nyköpingshus. After this victory, most of the Swedish nobles join Albrecht’s side.


Håkan and his father lost the battle of Gataskog, 1365

Håkan continues the fight

In 1366 Håkan has recovered from his wounds and feel fit enough to reengage king Albrecht. He summons his troops and attack Öland, where the stronghold Borgholm is taken. Soon after, the duke of Sachsen, Erik – one of Valdemar Atterdag’s men occupy the northern parts of the province Halland, and meanwhile king Valdemar himself lays siege to Kalmar to help his son-in-law. This of course puts king Albrecht in an even tighter spot; now he is fighting a war on two fronts. His father, Albrecht the elder, is a sly old politician however, and starts dealing with Valdemar directly. He promises Valdemar big chunks of Sweden, and the Danish king withdraws his troops. This however, is nothing but a ruse; old Albrecht knows that the Swedish council won’t ever agree to such terms, and he is right. They refuse, but the old tactician has bought his son a great opportunity to finish the fight with Håkan before he has to attend to the Danish problem.

Old Albrecht’s plan is successful. The war starts going badly for Håkan. Some time in 1367, Albrecht’s troops manage to re-capture Borgholm and in 1368 Albrecht joins a federation of Hanseatic cities, which in the beginning of the year occupied Köpenhamn/Copenhagen, Skåne and Gotland, and at the same time managed to pillage the Norwegian coasts, which forces Håkan and Norway into a truce. In 1369 The war against Denmark ends, and both the Hanseatic league and king Albrecht withdraws after forcing Valdemar Atterdag to accept their terms.


The seal of Copenhagen

However. Already in 1370 the Swedes are growing weary of their new masters the Germans. King Albrecht is now without the support of the Hansa, and Håkan seizes the moment. In the beginning of 1371 an uprising against king Albrecht starts in the province of Svealand. Commoners urged their likes in other parts of the realm to rise against the Germans, and wanted the council to lead the uprising. They hade grown weary of

wold och orätt, träldom och omilde som I och wij och aller Suerikes almoge tolt haffuom aff tyskom mannom

violence and unjustice, serfdom and unkindness that we and you and all Swedish commoners have endured from German men

They wanted to rid Sweden of

herra Albrect som wor konunger skulle wara, huilkin som är en retter meenedhare och hans fadher, rikesens i Swerige rätta förrådhare

lord Albrecht who should be our king, but is a real liar and his father, a true traitor to the kingdom of Sweden

Actually, they declared that they didn’t feel any loyalty to the king or any German at all. Instead, they wanted to live

vnder then erliga och godha herran konung Magnus, ey tess sidher at han fongen är, huilken wij vthaff then wånda hielpa wiliom med allo wåro macht, och hopp till Gudh haffua vnder honom, at wij med honom vnder rett och lagh bliffua skolom, och med allom them som med oss bliffua wilia, wiliom wij gladheliga liffua och döö, och the oss emoot stonda och oss ey hielpa wilia, them wiliom wij nidhra och förderffua och lijka holda widher the tydzska

under the honest and good lord king Magnus, even though he is a captive, who we out of pity want to help with all our power, and hope to God under him, that we will obey justice and law under him, and all who is with us we will gladly live and die alongside, and those against us and those who would not help us, we want to bring down and destroy and treat as a German

Some knights and squires seems to have joined the rebel army, but mostly it consisted of burghers and peasants. The king was abroad at the time and had no time to muster his troops. The rebels lay siege to Stockholm and Bo Jonsson Grip, king Albrecht’s second in command, was forced to negotiate. Magnus is freed from captivity and is granted the provinces of Västergötland, Värmland and Dalsland to be able to provide for himself, although he is obliged to recognize Albrecht as king and to pay the huge sum of 12 000 mark to Albrecht. Albrechts himself  is forced to sign a document that in practice makes him powerless. Lands and titles he had given to his supporters were withdrawn and the king himself had to deed his personal domains to the state. He also have to admit that his knights and servants have been a bit too rough on the Swedes, but claims this was going on behind his back, and that the people responsible for the heinous deeds is being harshly punished.

The Swedish nobles were happy. They were now able to claim land for themselves, which made the balance of power completely different. The real power now lay with Bo Jonsson Grip – the greatest landowner of all times in Sweden.

A new era

But at the Swedish throne, there was a German. The nobles imagined that they would be able to control a 26-year old newbie of a king better than they could an old experienced one like Magnus. But their hopes crumbled fast enough; Albrecht was no puppet, and he had a completely different view on how to rule than the Swedish nobles, indeed most Swedes, had. He didn’t recognize the peasants as a free class; he looked upon them as serfs, just like in his old country. Albrecht ruled with his experienced and ruthless father as support. Both his father and his grandfather were known to break oaths and to excercise a very practical type of politics. Once again, malcontent started to brew.

At this time, the old ex king Magnus resided with his son in Norway. During a boat trip across Bømmelfjorden in the end of 1374 he drowned, and until this day it is not certain where he rests.


An image from the Mecklenburgischer Reimchronik, 1379. It shows Albrecht the older handing his son the royal banner of Sweden. The three crowns are still used as a symbol in moden day Sweden

This article, written by Johan Käll and Peter Ahlqvist, was in part previously posted on our old webpage under the name 14thc Political climate

What happened next? Read more in the next article.

This article is the second of four. Read more in the same series here:
A 14th century political history of Sweden, part 1 – The beginning
A 14th century political history of Sweden, part 3 – The age of the king
A 14th century political history of Sweden, part 4 – Defeat and union
These pages might also prove useful:
Timeline of Swedish politics 1306-1412
Family tree of Swedish royals during the 14th century

A 14th century political history of Sweden, part 1 – The beginning

Ways of old

In many ways, Sweden was still a fledgling nation in the fourteenth century. There does not seem to be much national identity. Many probably thought of themselves as East Goths, West Goths, Svears or Finns. The king was elected in the area of Svealand, and then had to travel to the different areas to be accepted in the other areas. This journey was called Eriksgata (”Erik’s Way”) after the first king that made it. An Eriksgata was surrounded by rules and tradition. Failure by the king to follow them, was not taken lightly. The reign of Ragnvald ”Knaphuvud” (Short of head or Dumb head) was very short, as he ignored the rule of hostages upon entering Västergötland. This traditional rule means that the king needs to wait for ”hostages” or rather escort when entering a province. Ragnvald Knaphuvud was of the opinion that he was so powerful that he didn’t need any escort, and entered Västergötland with his own sworn men. The people of the area promptly killed him, and did not want anything to do with the kingdom of Sweden for several years after that incident.


In the latter part of the century a greater centralization of power starts to appear. The kingdom is becoming more structured and works more like a united nation than before. The power struggles between the king and the nobles dominates the national politics during the period. The true power was mostly concentrated to Sweden’s richest and most powerful man of all times; Bo Jonsson Grip. Only a squire (and hence not even a knight), he owned Finland (called ”the Eastern half of the Realm”) and most of two parts of the rest of Sweden at the time of his death in 1386.


The seal of Bo Jonsson Grip – the mightiest man yet in Sweden

A feud between brothers

But let’s look at how power and politics developed in Sweden in the beginning of the fourteenth century – it gives us something to fall back to when discussing the subject later in the century. The conflict between the brothers started in 1306 where the brothers Erik and Valdemar wanted a bigger piece of the action. Hence, they seized their older brother, king Birger, at his estate Håtuna, and imprisoned him in Stockholm. Several years later he was set free under condition that he split his realm with his younger brothers. Some years later, in christmas time 1317,  the king took his revenge, and seized his brothers at Nyköpingshus, where he confined them and according to tradition let them starve to death. Birger himself was forced to live in exile for most of his remaining life, and his son was executed by his brothers’ supporters.Erik, who after his death became a hero of almost epic proportions, and was portrayed as ”the true noble Swedish knight”. The Erikskrönika (Erik’s chronicle) that describes him as a true, gentle knight, also gives the modern reader a glance at something closer to reality – he was most likely as scheming and backstabbing as any noble of the time. In the fourteenth century however, he and his brother Valdemar was tragic victims to imprisonment (and starvation to death in the dungeon of Nyköpinghus castle) by his evil brother king Birger. The Mecklenburgische Reimchronik, written in the 1370’s, describes it thus:

Nu starb von dem hungere gar, der eyne herczoge Woldemar /…/ Do her des mochte getun nicht me, du starb her ouch yn hungirs we.

In 1319 the three year old Magnus Eriksson, son of the starved-to-death duke Erik, is elected king of Sweden and inherits at the same time the crown of Norway. Magnus was seen as the most fitting heir to the throne by his father’s supporters. A three-year-old on the throne suited the nobles just fine, since it in effect let them rule, even though the young king’s mother, the Duchess Ingeborg, was a bit more stubborn and powerful than the council of nobles really liked. She and her aide/lover Knut Porse planned an attack on the province of Skåne, which annoyed the nobles. In general, they also disliked the influence Knut Porse had over Ingeborg, and they had no intention whatsoever of helping them out. However, the expedition to Skåne couldn’t be successful without support from somebody, and that somebody turned out to be the north German nobleman Henrik of Mecklenburg. By betrothing her four year old daughter Eufemia to Henrik’s son Albrecht the elder of Mecklenburg, Ingeborg had the support of the north Germans. The campaign against Skåne was a failure, but the bond between the Swedish royals and the Germans remained, something that would be of the greatest importance some years later, as we will well see.

Enough is enough

The council lost what patience they had with Ingeborg. Fighting a long war on Novgorod in the Finnish part of Sweden, they certainly didn’t need another front. In 1323 the decided that something had to be done. They signed a treaty with the Novgorodians at the castle of Nöteborg, and thereby regulated the Swedish/Russian borders in Finland. Then they turned on the capable duchess, and besieged her strong castle of Axvalla. 1326 the nobles and Ingeborg finally come to terms and she is forced to give up much of her power. She is given the small Dovå castle to support herself.


Something rotten in the state of Denmark

At the same time, king Kristoffer of Denmark was in quite a pickle; his predecessors and himself had been leading an irresponsible foreign policy and hence they had to pawn one Danish region after another to creditors from Holstein in northern Germany. Skåne and the better part of mainland Denmark was under German rule. A lot of the people of Denmark and Skåne was less than satisfied with the ruling Holsteiners, because they were ”merciless” to the commoners. Under the command of the archbishop of Lund, Karl Erikssøn, the people rebelled against count Johan of Holstein, besieged Helsingborg and seized the count’s other estates in 1332.

The year before, in 1331, the young Magnus Eriksson, the son of countess Ingeborg, came of age. He was 15 years old and hence acceeded the formal royal power from his mother. He immediately proceeded to confirm the old privilegies of the rebelling archbishop Karl – even though he in theory was was subordinated to Johan of Holstein, who owned Skåne and therefore was the only person that really could confirm any privilegies of old. The young king took a longshot to consolidate his power in the wealthy province.

Magnus gain Skåne – and lose it

The counts of Holstein wanted to end the rebellion and mustered an army at Sjælland to come to Helsingborg’s rescue. Magnus, in his turn, sent ships and soldiers to oppose the counts, but he was in the end convinced to refrain from violence. He was allowed to buy the province of Skåne for the immense sum of 34 000 marks of silver (about 8 000 kilos of pure silver). The people of Skåne, including the archbishop, the nobles and number of burghers and peasants voluntarily swore an oath of fealthy to Magnus, whom they looked upon as their master and king. He was crowned in 1336. After this Magnus begins calling himself ”the king of Sweden, Norway and Scania”. Also, this is about the time when three crowns start to appear as a symbol of the realm.

Skåne held one of Europe’s most important markets which generated an enormous tax revenue, a prequisite for Magnus ability to repay his huge loan. But Skåne slipped out of hus grasp sooner than he could ever anticipate. Valdemar Kristofferssøn, more known as Valdemar Atterdag was celebrated as Danish king in 1340. He had come to terms with the Holstein counts after great efforts, cunning diplomacy and military action. In 1348 Denmark was his. Even though he in 1341 had agreed on an ”unbreakable peace” with Magnus, and 1343 renounced his claims for Skåne, he conquered the province after only a couple of months on campaign. The Swedish army under Erengisle Jarl and Karl Ulfsson is camped at lake Ringsjön but stays passive. The only thing they seem to manage is to kill the exiled Bengt Algotsson (we will return to Bengt Algotsson later); it is said his murderers were Karl Ulfsson of Tofta and Magnus Niklisson. Then the Swedish army returns north. The nobles showed very little interest in fighting in Scania. The revenues from the market in Skåne was no more, and king Magnus could never be free of his debts – he only switched creditors.


A fresco showing king Valdemar Atterdag of Denmark, circa 1370

Being on a roll, Valdemar sets sail for the islands of Gotland and Öland in 1361. Öland is taken relatively easy, and despite warnings from Magnus, the Gotlanders are taken by surprise. The campaign culminates the 27th of July in the battle of Visby where almost 2000 Gotlandish commoners were slaughtered by Danish and German mercenaries, and thrown into massgraves. Visby is plundered, and according to legend, Valdemar forces the inhabitants of the city to tear down a part of its city walls. Even though the attack was a great success, it was a mistake; Visby was part of the Hanseatic League. The city of Lübeck starts negotiations with the Swedes in August, and a combined attack is planned. The Swedish nobles, however, are showing usual reluctance to support their king. The mustering of troops is going slow, but about a year after the attack on Visby, Magnus (with some help from his son Håkon) has gathered enough men to launch an attack on Valdemar in the city of Helsingborg. 27 koggs and 25 other vessels set out to teach the Danes a lesson.

Continue reading here.

This article, written by Johan Käll and Peter Ahlqvist, was in part previously posted on our old webpage under the name 14thc Political climate.


This text is the first of a series of four. Read more in the same series here:
A 14th century political history of Sweden, part 2 – The struggle of the lawmaker
A 14th century political history of Sweden, part 3 – The age of the king
A 14th century political history of Sweden, part 4 – Defeat and union

These pages might also prove useful:
Timeline of Swedish politics 1306-1412
Family tree of Swedish royals during the 14th century